Following a positive run at the Sundance Film Festival, the film “Jamie Marks is Dead,” based on the book “One For Sorrow” by Youngstown State University associate professor Chris Barzak, premiered in Cleveland last Friday.
Playing at the Capitol Theatre in Cleveland, the audience of the first show was moderate in size, filled out with Barzak’s family, friends, colleagues, former students and a few members of the media. Even Carter Smith, the film’s director, made a special appearance for the first screening in Ohio.
The film itself is a dark, but positive, examination of the passion and humiliation so often experienced during adolescence, as well as an exploration of death and how we deal with the mortality of ourselves and our loved ones.
In the film, the outcast teen Jamie Marks is found [spoiler alert] dead, with the circumstances surrounding his death suggesting murder.
Two local teens, a girl who found Marks’ body and the other a young man deeply shaken by the death of his classmate, eventually come to bond over their mutual interest in Marks’ death. They forge a relationship from their shared grief and fascination, but soon find themselves at odds when Marks’ ghost begins invading their lives.
The film has legitimate scares, but avoids classic horror tropes and the temptation to pander to the supernatural, young adult, romantic-fiction crowd, instead utilizing both moments of terror and of gentle compassion to tell the story.
The surface narrative is clear, but the real story lies in the film’s subtext.
“I used metaphor to tell the story,” Barzak said in a question and answer session following the screening.
Questions fielded by both Barzak and Smith ranged from interest in the shooting locations to the off-camera chemistry of the actors and Smith’s discovery of the source material, Barzak’s “One For Sorrow.”
“I just found it [One For Sorrow] at a bookstore and picked it up randomly. About an hour into the book I knew that it was something special,” Smith said.
Smith then began the process of obtaining the rights to turn the novel into a film, a project he doggedly pursued.
“He was the most passionate person about the project other than me,” Barzak said of Smith. “When I first found out about my book being optioned for film, I watched some of Carter’s previous films and felt pretty confident with him after that.”
The film stayed true to the novel, taking only minor liberties with the story and character for the sake of the big screen.
“I always figured changes were going to be made, that’s just the reality of having an adaptation,” Barzak said. “I was concerned that the changes kept true to the purpose of the narrative and was true to the characters, and I think that was accomplished. I’m pleased with what we have.”
In “One For Sorrow,” the story unfolds just outside Youngstown. Unable to shoot in the city, Smith found a suitable substitute for Youngstown in the woods, mills and strip malls of upstate New York.
“Yeah, we ended up shooting in New York in areas I felt really captured the bleakness, and the beauty, of the locations Chris describes in the book. I didn’t even visit Youngstown during scouting because I knew once I saw the actual sites that inspired Chris, I’d fall in love with the location and have to shoot there, which would have been very, very tough,” Smith said.
Barzak has had the opportunity to see his creative work come to life on screen twice — first at Sundance Film Festival, then in Cleveland. The venues differ greatly, with Sundance offering the spectacle, legitimacy and prestige of one of the top film-art festivals on the planet, while the tiny Capitol Theatre allows for intimacy and, more importantly, the chance for those close to Barzak to see the film.
“It’s nice now that people I know can see the film. It’s kind of weird to tell people ‘oh I have this movie coming out’ but no one can see it,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to share this with my friends and family, finally.”
Former Jambar reporter JoAnne Tombo and photographer Jenna Medina followed Barzak out to Utah last year for the film’s Sundance premiere.
A little over seven months since its debut at Sundance, “Jamie Marks is Dead” is now playing in Ohio and across the country, and is available on select video-on-demand services and online media stores, such as iTunes.